By John Stone
Prof Stephen Scherer who is the senior author of the autism gene study launched in Nature last week holds the ‘GlaxoSmithKline-CIHR Pathfinder Chair in Genetics and Genomics at the Hospital for Sick Children and University of Toronto. The title used to be ‘GlaxoSmithKline-CIHR Endowed Chair”, GSK being one of the defendant companies in the UK MMR litigation.
While this information was tucked away in the paper under acknowledgements it did not appear as a competing interest for Prof Scherer, and was not mentioned in the paper’s extensive media publicity. The study boasts a remarkable 176 authors, including Prof Sir Michael Rutter and Prof Eric Fombonne who have given evidence for the vaccine manufacturers, and the US Department of Justice in vaccine litigation, but the disclosures of competing interests amount to barely three lines and do not mention any of these things:
“Competing Financial Interests: L.J. Bierut and J.P. Rice are inventors on the patent “Markers for Addiction” (US 20070258898) covering the use of certain SNPs in determining the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of addiction. L.J. Bierut served as a consultant for Pfizer Inc. in 2008.”
While Prof Scherer’s departmental colleague Dalila Pinto is listed as lead author of the paper Scherer is listed as ‘correspondence author’ and he identifies himself as ‘senior author’ in Kevin Leitch’s LeftBrain/RightBrain blog. The 176 authors undoubtedly escaped having to make more detailed disclosures of competing interest by publishing in Nature rather than one of the journals now signatory to the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors ‘Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts’. Under ICMJE rules it is hard to see how Prof Scherer could have failed to disclose the association with GSK as a competing interest, and this is serious issue for Nature.
The extraordinary ballyhoo which has accompanied the publication of this study cannot hide the tenuous and inconclusive nature of its findings after decades of gene research into autism, or the reality of a continuing gravy train on a journey to nowhere. Of an earlier publication in 2007 Mark Blaxill wrote (HERE):
“In summary, the AGPC findings provide the strongest support to date for the case to shift autism research resources away from deterministic heritability research and towards environmental investigations, including investigation of gene-environment interactions. Despite their weak evidence and unsupported claims, the study authors have not adequately faced the implications of three decades of failure in the gene transmission hypothesis of autism causation. Instead, they continue to promote new and speculative genetic research projects.
“These authors are influenced by their institutional and commercial interests and their advocacy should be considered in that light. It is time to move on to more productive activities and focus research on the areas that can more rapidly help individuals with autism and prevent future cases through removal of environmental triggers.”
And our children just go on suffering.
John Stone is UK Editor for Age of Autism.